In 2021, Tax Day — or the due date for filing federal and state income tax returns for most people — was delayed by about a month due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2022 Tax Day will be on April 18.
One of the biggest questions many people have about their taxes is how long it takes to receive a tax refund. In general, you should receive your refund anywhere between eight days and two months, depending on how you file and choose to receive your refund.
Tax Refund Process
The IRS follows a very detailed process when handling tax returns and issuing tax refunds. The first step is for them to accept your return, which usually happens within 24-48 hours.
During this time, they are making sure that the personal information included on your return matches the information in their records. If everything checks out, you’ll receive a notice that the IRS has accepted your return. This is when the clock starts ticking on your refund schedule.
Federal Tax Refund Delivery Time
Following is a breakdown of how much time it generally takes to receive a tax refund depending on how the return is filed and which method is chosen to receive the refund.
|Refund Time||1-3 weeks||3 weeks||1 month||2 months|
The following chart can be used as a guideline to estimate when you might receive your tax refund.
|Date taxes accepted||Direct deposit sent||Paper check mailed|
|March 15 – March 21||March 28||April 4|
|March 22 – March 28||April 4||April 11|
|March 29 – April 4||April 11||April 18|
|April 5 – April 11||April 18||April 25|
|April 12 – April 18||April 25||May 2|
|April 19 – April 25||May 2||May 9|
|April 26 – May 2||May 9||May 15|
|May 3 – May 9||May 15||May 23|
|May 10 – May 16||May 23||May 30|
|May 17 – May 23||May 30||June 6|
|May 24 – May 30||June 6||June 13|
|May 31 – June 6||June 13||June 20|
|June 7 – June 13||June 20||June 27|
|June 14 – June 20||June 27||July 4|
|June 21 – June 27||July 4||July 11|
|June 28 – July 4||July 11||July 18|
|July 5 – July 11||July 18||July 25|
|July 12 – July 18||July 25||Aug. 1|
|July 19 – July 25||Aug. 1||Aug. 8|
|July 26 – Aug. 1||Aug. 8||Aug. 15|
Factors that Affect Timing
• Choosing electronic or paper filing of your tax return
This is one of the main factors affecting the timing of your refund. The other main factor is choosing direct deposit of your refund or receiving your refund via a paper check.
E-filing will considerably speed up the refund process. Before e-filing was available, tax returns had to be mailed to the IRS where the information was scanned or manually entered into the system. Then the IRS issued paper checks that had to be mailed to taxpayers. This manual process could take up to two months, keeping many people anxiously waiting by their mailboxes for weeks.
According to the IRS, refunds can be issued to taxpayers by direct deposit as soon as eight days after tax returns are filed. Meanwhile, nine out of 10 taxpayers choosing direct deposit receive their refunds within 21 days of the date they file electronically. Keep in mind that it may take an extra few days for your bank to make funds available to you after the refund is issued electronically.
• Claiming certain tax credits
Claiming the earned income tax credit (EITC) and the additional child tax credit (ACTC) is another factor affecting timing of your tax refund. There are special rules that require the IRS to hold these refunds until February 27, so you might experience a delay if you claim one or both of these tax credits.
• Errors in your tax return
These could also result in tax refund delays, as could suspicion of identity theft or fraud with your return by the IRS.
How to Track Your Tax Refund
You can track the status of your tax refund by using the IRS Where’s My Refund? tool. Or if you prefer, you can call 800-829-1954 to check on the status of your refund. The tool will tell you the dates your tax return was received and approved and the date your refund was sent.
The IRS has also created an app called IRS2GO that you can use to track your tax refund. It can be downloaded from Google Play, the App Store or Amazon.
To use these tools you’ll need to know your Social Security number, filing status and dollar amount of your refund. Refund information is available about 24 hours after you file your tax return electronically or a month after you mail in a paper tax return.
How Can I Speed Up My Refund?
Here are three tips to help speed up receipt of your income tax refund.
1. Keep your tax records organized.
Being organized will help you file your tax return sooner while also avoiding mistakes that could delay processing of your return. For example, store all of your tax documents — such as W-2 and 1099 forms and documentation supporting itemized deductions — in one central location so they’re easy to locate when you need them.
2. Use tax preparation software.
Tax prep software can greatly simplify and streamline the tax filing process. These programs not only include all of the IRS forms and schedules you’ll need, but they also help ensure that you follow all the current tax laws and take advantage of every potential deduction, which could boost your tax refund.
3. File your return electronically and choose direct deposit of your refund.
As detailed above, filing your return electronically and choosing to receive your refund via direct deposit instead of a check in the mail will accelerate your refund considerably. With e-filing and direct deposit, your refund could be in your bank account less than two weeks after the IRS accepts your return.
What to Do Once You Receive Your Refund
A tax refund can seem like a financial windfall, so it’s smart to give some thought to what you’re going to do with the money once you receive it.
Here are five ideas.
1. Pay down debt.
High consumer debt levels, especially credit card debt, are one of the biggest obstacles to building wealth, which makes paying off debt one of the smartest uses of a tax refund.
Calculate It: Debt Payoff Calculator
2. Start or add to an emergency fund.
This is a stash of money kept in a liquid savings account that you can tap for a “rainy day,” such as an unexpected car or home repair or high out-of-pocket medical expenses. One benchmark is to save between three and six months’ worth of living expenses in an emergency fund.
3. Save it for retirement.
If you have an IRA or participate in a 401(k) or 403(b) retirement plan at work, consider contributing some or all of your tax refund to this plan. Doing so could help improve your retirement financial situation down the road.
4. Save it for a home down payment.
It’s a good idea to make at least a 20% down payment when buying a home if you can. This will help lower your monthly mortgage payment and might save you from having to purchase private mortgage insurance. Setting your tax refund aside in a down payment savings fund could help you accomplish this goal.
5. Have some fun!
These are all financially responsible strategies, but it doesn’t necessarily hurt to have a little bit of fun with your tax refund.
For example, maybe you could devote half of the refund to one of these ideas and the other half to something fun like a long weekend at the beach or in the mountains, or even just a nice dinner at a fancy restaurant you wouldn’t normally go to.
The Bottom Line
Personal Capital offers free financial tools that can help you improve your personal financial management, including how to make good decisions about what to do with your tax refund.
You can do a few things now to get yourself on the right track.
- Download 5 Tax Hacks for Investors, an actionable guide with insights from fiduciary financial advisors. The guide is free.
- Sign up for the Personal Capital Dashboard. Millions of people use these free and secure online financial tools to see all of their accounts in one place and plan for long-term financial goals.
- Consider talking to a fiduciary financial advisor for more detailed guidance on your tax optimization strategies.